Considering how poorly U.S. currency is faring in comparison to pounds, euros, francs, and forints, common sense says I should forgo my annual European vacation. The dollar is going south and, in theory, I should be too. But the heart wants what the heart wants—and what mine pines for lies across the pond. Luckily, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that can help me get my continental fix without breaking the bank.
1) When you go clearly makes a difference, but where you go is equally important. Some regions—most notably Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula—are always less costly than others, and the best deals are typically found off the beaten path. Right now, try picking Warsaw over Budapest or Spain’s Costa de la Luz over the Costa del Sol. They’re up and coming destinations, so tightwads look like trendsetters!
2) No matter where you go, it pays to shop around for airfares. Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are old standbys, but Kayak  also deserves a bookmark. As an aggregator it links you directly to service providers (including transatlantic airlines), letting you bypass middlemen’s fees. Package sellers like gate1travel  and go-today  are worth a look too, because even DIY types can benefit from the bulk rates they negotiate.
3) When combining far-flung places within Europe, no-frill flights are the cheapest way to connect the dots. The biggest players are Ryanair , Europe’s original budget airline, and arch rival easyJet , both of which slash costs by dispensing with assigned seating and other niceties. There are, however, countless competitors. Lowcostairlines.org  and wegolo.com  will help you find them.
Their drool-inducing promotional airfares—think one way from London to Rome for £10—don’t necessarily cover taxes and assorted surcharges. Furthermore, they apply to a limited number of seats and you must follow certain rules (such as reserving twenty-eight days ahead) to get them. Even with standard fares, though, early purchase is imperative. Since no-frills work on supply and demand, prices rise as seats sell.
4) Trains are the traditional alternative for those who believe the journey is as important as the destination. You can see the scenery en route; then be deposited at a centrally-located station. (No-frills carriers prefer out-of-the-way airports). But whether they’re economical depends on the type of ticket you buy. Passes can yield savings when you cover a lot of ground, while point-to-points are generally best for shorter trips.
Rail Europe  sells both and you can use its Web site to compare fares. A handy chart outlines the various passes (they range from the first class twenty-country Eurail Global Pass, now starting at $744 for fifteen days, to single country versions) as well as any cost-effective extras they might include, like complimentary ferry crossings. Links to European rail databases let you determine what you’d spend for point-to-point tickets.
5) On a per person basis, rental cars are a good value for larger parties (say a family or two couples traveling together), provided you rent by the week and stick to exploring the countryside. If big city visits are on your itinerary, you’ll avoid traffic headaches—along with parking charges—by positioning them at the beginning and end of your trip with the rental period in between.
Once luxury vehicles are removed from the equation, the general rental rule is “the smaller the car, the lower the cost.” Be prepared to downsize. Also opt for a stripped-down standard that runs on diesel, which is cheaper than gasoline. The British Automobile Association’s comprehensive Web site lists current continental fuel prices , which will help you budget accordingly.
6) Once you’ve reached your destination, don’t let pricey accommodations turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. For weeklong stays, consider renting a house directly from the owner through companies like holiday-rentals.com . For shorter stays, try making yourself at a home in a pensione or gasthof. Bedandbreakfast.com  and bedandbreakfastineurope.com  both have reliable listings.
Prefer hotels? For budget rooms, check both global and European chains. Standouts among the latter are Etap  and Ibis : they’re sisters of our Motel 6. For high-end digs, plan a weekend stay in a capital city. Hoteliers there often reduce rates 30–50 percent to fill beds vacated by businessmen. Participants in the Stockholm à la Carte program , for example, offer rooms from $63 per adult and toss in free sightseeing passes.
7) Mom was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But eating it at your hotel can be unnecessarily expensive. Take the surprisingly hip Holiday Inn in Florence . This summer you can book a standard double with breakfast included for 134€ a night. Reserve the room only and you’ll pay 104€. In short, the “free” breakfast isn’t free at all. So quaff your cappuccino at an atmospheric corner café instead.
8) For lunch, indulge in a picnic or sample the discounted noon menu at a fine restaurant. For dinner, suss out mom-and-pop eateries in residential areas or university zones; then follow the locals’ lead by ordering the fixed-price meal—like a gedeck in Germany. Wash it down with the local libation. A glass of Kölsch ale in Cologne or Riesling wine on the Rhine will set you back less than a Coke.
9) Okay—now that you’re well-rested and well-fed, it’s time to start sightseeing in earnest. To cut admission costs, consider buying a pass. A two-day Paris Museum Pass , for instance, admits you to some sixty attractions for 30€. You will pay over half that simply to see the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. So they save money and, by allowing you to jump the line, time too. Europeancitycards.com  has the skinny on cards in over forty other cities.
10) Finally, don’t forget your ATM card. Using it is cheaper than pre-ordering currency or travelers’ cheques, assuming you keep transaction fees low. Minimize them by making fewer, larger withdrawals from machines affiliated with your home bank. Users of Cirrus or PLUS networks can locate them at mastercard.com/atmlocator  and visa.com/atms  respectively.